Will the US Manufacture Russian Weapon Models?

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The U.S. military has supplied hundreds of thousands of Soviet-style assault rifles and machine guns to allies and partners over the years and acquired some of its own for special operations and other training purposes, but it has had to largely source those weapons from friendly third-party countries that still make them. Now it wants to manufacture them in the US.

Kalashnikov Concern — the Russian firm renowned for designing the AK-47 assault rifle — was caught off guard by U.S. Special Operations Command’s desire to “reverse engineer” and “domestically produce” Russian-styled weapons. The move sparked anger from senior Russian officials. Kalishnikov’s parent company, Rostec, is a state-owned enterprise in Russia. Speaking to state media, Rostec said they were unaware of SOCOM’s plans, adding that the manufacture of Russian small arms in the U.S. without permission from them would be considered intellectual theft.

Defense contractors situated within certain NATO members, such as Bulgaria, as well as in other ostensibly friendly countries, such as Ukraine, do still produce versions or derivatives of Soviet-era guns, providing alternative sources. They might not have the capacity to meet American demands or do so quickly, though.

At the same time, guns such as the PKM and NSV remain extremely popular around the world and in demand, including among U.S. allies and partners, according to thedrive.com.

In a small business solicitation from April 2017, SOCOM asked American businesses “to explore whether it is feasible to reverse engineer or reengineer and domestically produce” a 7.62 x 54mm belt-fed light machine gun that resembles a PKM, and a 12.7 x 108mm heavy machine gun that resembles a Russian-designed NSV.

SOCOM confirmed to militarytimes.com that contracts for the first phase, the research portion, of the solicitation have already been awarded to several companies, and the second phase, to demonstrate a production capacity, is already underway.

“Foreign-made weapons lack interchangeability and standardization which hinders field and depot-level part replacement,” the solicitation reads. “Developing a domestic production capability for foreign-like weapons addresses these issues while being cost effective as well as strengthens the nation’s military-industrial complex, ensures a reliable and secure supply chain, and reduces acquisition lead times.”